Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Finals Top 17

So on to the final day we go with Bill. I was disappointed to not be running two dogs in the Finals, both because i felt Zac would do well but also because it would have been fun to try it twice. Little did i know, but i'd get 2 shots at it anyway.

It was a much better weather day for a dog trial, overcast with cooler temps. Bill and i drew up 6th, a pretty good spot to run in usually. I might have preferred a little later draw just so i could watch and study earlier runs but at least we weren't 1st or 2nd. I was really concerned about getting Bill to do the turnback to the 2nd lot of sheep. He only has the start of a proper turnback in his repertoire. He understands the verbal "look" command means to turn around and look for sheep behind him. I've blown the whistle to him a couple of times to start teaching it to him, but always follow it with voice as he doesn't know it yet. He's been on a few turnbacks to sheep that were in sight, up to maybe 150-200 yards or so, and i did send him back to sheep that he couldn't see, about 50 yards away, once or twice at the farm, just before heading to the Finals. I didn't want to do a lot of turnback training just before the fall trials, since it tends to make dogs look back a little too easily on fetches if you've been working on it. Better to train it during the off season. Unfortunately, Bill was hurt during the past winter off season and missed out. So, it was with some trepidation that i stepped to the post. True, it was an honor to just make the cut, but i sure did want to try the course. I was pretty relaxed though. Someone (wish i could remember who!) had made a comment that Bill trusts me and he'd go back, and i took a good deal of comfort from that thought. It's true, we've gotten to be a pretty close team and i've tried to always be fair and not ask for more than he can do, and he does trust me.

The first group of ten was spotted about 600 yards out, in the upper left corner of the field. I'd already sent Bill out 3 times to the left, but to sheep spotted at 350-400 yards and in the middle of the field. He seemed to see the sheep though, and i set him up to run wide, and he went out very well, nicely wide, looking and kicking out as he went. He landed well, pulling up on the pressure, which was downfield to my left. Lift was nice and we started the dogleg fetch online. I had him hard on the pressure, pushing the sheep off to the right a bit to counteract that huge draw, and his fetch was nice, to the panel and through. We settled the sheep at the drop post, but as soon as i flanked Bill over to the right, the sheep broke hard left, as they did on all of the dogs. It was about as hard of a turnback as you could possibly set up. The dogs had to fight to keep the sheep off the exhaust and then just let them run off, and every dog of the day had trouble turning back, even some very experienced ones. I started giving Bill the whistle and following it with the "look" voice command. He was a good boy and released the first group well but just couldn't figure out what i wanted, as he couldn't see any sheep behind him. It took quite a while (felt like hours!) but after trying a few different things, i finally got Bill looking further upfield. He'd already crossed over, so it didn't matter how i got him out, i just needed to get him there. He started upfield, and i'm not sure if he was running back and thinking about the first group, or trying a come bye outrun to the right corner, but, i saw him finally see the sheep, stopped him and redirected him around to the proper away outrun. I could maybe have left him on the come bye path but i was wanting him to do it right and was doing a bit of training out there. He took the redirect very well, kicking out and landing perfectly on the sheep. The sheep took off like crazy towards that exhaust draw but Bill kicked around and caught them, and we kept them online, to the panels and through. That sure felt good!

Okay, so double lift finally accomplished and we continued on to the fetching. Bill did a beautiful job keeping the second group on the fetch line to the post, holding that hard pressure. Unfortunately, by the time we'd evened them up to the first group, the first group had disappeared from sight and were right up against the fence. I sent Bill down in there to try to fish them out (yet another blind turnback) but he came out with only about half. I couldn't see what happened, maybe he got confused by the people and dogs down there that were trying to keep the sheep out in the field, but he did let some get away. I think he should have been able to manage it but i couldn't see, and the groups had been held out in sight on the field on the previous runs, so the judges gave us a rerun. It was a big relief that we would get to continue on and try the course, but oh no, another double lift!We waited about an hour and stepped back to the post. The first outrun, lift and fetch were nearly identical to the morning one. When we got to the drop post, i had Bill push the sheep a few yards to the right, in hopes that maybe they'd stay but unfortunately they took off again when i flanked him around to set up the turnback. I wondered afterwards if a little more time holding them on the spot might have helped, but i doubt it. I started the whistle/voice routine again and though Bill did cross over and need some extra flanking to set up, he did go back and quite a lot easier than the first time. Again he landed well, fetched straight and the sheep were through the panels and coming towards the handlers post. This time, our first lot had been held further out in the field where we could see them. I decided to stop Bill and let the second lot run over to the first, with a plan to send him around them all. He had a hard time understanding what i wanted when he got there though. It was odd, but the groups stayed segregated even though they were really close to each other. Bill went around the back group but then locked in on the front group and was going to let the back one go. I had a heck of a time getting it worked out with him and we lost precious time, on top of all we'd lost on the first turnback (time started at 18 minutes on the second run, when i sent Bill to join up the groups). Finally we got it together and did the turn around the post and began the drive. It was actually more tricky than i expected, since there was a cheviot looking ewe with a friend who wanted to run off, and then a couple of really heavy ewes wanting to stop and stand at the back. Bill had to work really hard and do a lot of running from front to back to keep things together and moving. We wiggled around a bit getting the panels with those troublemakers but hit both panels and the drive was pretty decent all around, if a bit slow.

On to the shedding ring, where time was running low and i had a very tired dog after four 600 yard outruns. He had this "whew, i'm beat!" look on his face. Even fresh, Bill is still a little punky on his shedding since i haven't pushed it with him (one of our winter projects) because of his age. The sheep were being pretty cooperative though, bunching up some nice groups of uncollared ewes, and Bill was hanging in there pretty good. We got a couple of nice cuts, got down to about 3-5 uncollared ewes left and might have gotten it done but time ran out. All the time spent going back cost us there. But we still ended up with a 339 and 8th place!

I was so thrilled with my young guy. He worked his heart out and i was so impressed with how well he handled the sheep. They were big, strong, opinionated ewes who pushed dogs around all week. Straight lines were hard to come by and Bill had not just two, but four beautiful fetches, and also a lovely first leg of the drive. It was a very difficult turnback and he DID trust me, and listened and tried so hard to figure things out even though it was way, way over his head. He was calm, cool and kept his composure and the things he knew how to do, he did extremely well. And the things he didn't, he hung in there and worked out. I'm so very, very proud of him.

Next up, the Finals wrap up...

Monday, September 27, 2010

2010 SemiFinals

What a ride. I'm still pinching myself to be sure it was real. Or maybe just so i can stay awake now that we're home - it was quite the trip to come down from!

Bill drew up 15th and Zac 31st in the semifinals round. We were running 5 sheep, 2 with collars. The course was a little bigger than in the preliminary round, with slightly longer drives and a 450 yard outrun. I worried with the earlier draw that Bill might be at a disadvantage since the afternoon sheep seemed generally better, but i needn't have. He ran beautifully, settling his sheep and mastering them, keeping them calm and cooperative. We were to shed off 2 plain, then pen and then single a collared ewe. We were very clean around the course with reasonable lines, shed and pen went well. We again had a missed attempt on the single but did get it. I'm not surprised Bill had trouble with the singles, he's still not completely solid on the shedding so we haven't done much singling yet, trying to remember that he is still a youngster. Final score was 174 and he ended up in 13th place, qualifying for the big show - the top 17 double lift Finals!

Zac ran later and like in the first round, had a real smoker going. He had a difficult ewe in the bunch but really mastered her around the course, showing great confidence and poise, and listening really well. He was totally on his game for the trial. We got around cleanly and into the shedding ring, and i just couldn't get the sheep to line up as i needed. The collared ewes kept staying in with the uncollared, and i couldn't get 2 plain ones together. I stayed smart to start with but then got caught up in pushing them onto Zac. I should have known better and kept things looser as we'd done in the first round. Finally the ewe that had been eying up Zac and giving him grief broke off and he nailed her for a DQ. Heartbreak as i was so looking forward to running him in the top 17 as well. I know he'd have done well, even with that nasty turnback, because we practice it. It was very disappointing but we'll just have to work on that gripping and plan to be back next year.

It was a bit of a nerve wracking day waiting to see if Bill would make it through. I thought he probably would but you never know, and there were some great teams running at the end. A really cool thing was that the semifinals were being webcast. I heard from friends and family all over the country who were watching it all in real time. How amazing is that?

Next post is on the Top 17...

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Open Finals, Day 3, What Another Day!

Well, this has been some kind of week. Zac had his run today in the Finals and did a terrific job! If not for one silly mistake on my part, he'd now be leading the National Finals with 3/4s of the dogs already run. As it is, he's sitting in 4th place, 2 points behind Bill in 2nd. No matter what happens from here on out, it's already been amazing!

Zac was set to run 30th today. I was hoping the sheep would turn sweeter in the afternoon as they'd done on wednesday but they sure took their time doing it. I'd thought the heat would make the sheep more cranky but it seemed to make them lose their inclination to fight a bit. They'd still take advantage of mistakes but weren't quite so nasty about it. I don't think they really changed until just about the time we ran, later than yesterday. Zac was really good to them though, and they seemed to like him so it's hard to say for sure. They were pretty opinionated on the split and single so it's possible he made them a little better around the course. Either way, they were happy to walk nicely right around. I sent Zac left and he went out beautifully, bending just where i was looking for it. He landed nice and deep, and i dropped him about 11:00 to counter the leftward draw. The sheep folded off the lift towards me and i got Zac over on the left quickly, and we actually pushed the sheep over to the right a bit. I didn't want them getting any ideas that they could take off to the left as they'd been doing all week. I kept the fetch slow and it was very straight and online except for the topmost part. It looks like our gather score is 8 off on the HA website, and that's combined for 2 judges, so that's about as clean as it gets. (Bill was 8 off too!). Drive away was perfect, straight through the panels and turn was tight. I got low on the cross drive, then took it high, but again, i didn't fiddle too much with it so we could keep a nice flow. I didn't want panelitis getting me - i can get nervous and start lashing around at them sometimes. Return leg good and the sheep ambled nicely into the ring and stopped. So here's where i get nervous a bit with Zac, as he's been quite good at gripping off in the ring, especially when we've had a good run. So i was very careful setting up the split and kept it really quiet with Zac. He came in a little slow and glanced at the wrong group, but the split was called, all fine. The left behind sheep got to the far edge of the ring and i brought the others back to them. The judges had told us specifically to regather in the ring, and i thought i had done it, but i must have been over the edge. And them somehow i managed to not take the group through the shedding ring, though it's nearly on top of the pen, so i got hit 10 points (5 per judge) for the error (they called me over and told me after the run). But off to the pen, where the sheep jostled around a bit but did finally go in. I decided Zac could grab a quick dip in the water tub, then got back in the ring and very carefully got the single with Mr Grip at the Very Last Moment. I kept him calm and cool and watched carefully since i knew we were having a heck of a run, and he just held it nicely. Woo hoo! Final score was 185. With those 10 points back, he'd be sitting at 195, six points above the current top score. We won't give those points away next time!

It's been a fun Finals with lots of good dog work, great for watching and studying. I know i've learned a ton watching the great handling and have been taking lots of mental notes. And i just couldn't be more proud of Bill and Zac. They're so much fun and such good boys!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Open Finals, Day 1, What a Day!

What a day! The Open has begun and the running is tough. The committee moved the course a bit off the draw but someone forgot to explain to the sheep that that should have helped a bit. They are really pulling hard off to the left of the field, beyond the first drive panel. It's been a tough job all day getting that line with the sheep, and that's after fighting like mad to hold the fetch line. Whew. There were some really good dogs running today and it was very hard to even leave the viewing area because there was always someone running or on deck that i wanted to see.

I ran Bill late this afternoon in the #31 spot and i couldn't be any more proud of my young guy. I sent him left after waiting what seemed like forever for the sheep to be spotted and settled at the set out point. There was some breaking and jostling around but finally they did settle and off Bill went.He went out beautifully, bending in exactly the spots i'd have hoped for, and ending nicely deep. Because i felt the proper place to come in was around 10:30-11 o'clock, behind the lone tree on the field, i hit him with a steady whistle just as insurance, though it felt like he was making that decision just fine on his own. He came on quietly and with authority and the sheep folded off the top, straight at me. I started hitting the away whistle fast and furious as i wanted him set up on the left side and he took them pretty nicely, actually pushing the sheep a little off to the right. The fetch was pretty much straight and through the panels. The rest of the fetch was nice, turn around the post was pretty good though a bit wide. That really difficult first leg of the drive was just that - difficult - but it went well and we managed to stay online. The sheep stalled a couple of times but Bill just leaned right into them and they'd move off. I was loving how flexible he was being, locking in and pushing but still taking all my flanks and stops and walk ups right off. Through the panel, nice tight turn. The cross drive was a little more wiggly and lower than i wanted, but i didn't want to get too picky about it at that point and just kept it flowing over and through the panels. Return leg was pretty good and the sheep were nicely settled coming into the ring. We kept it calm and quiet and folded 2 off for the split, then eased them into the pen pretty easily with Bill just taking that job over for me as he walked them up and pressed them in. Deep breath and back to the ring for the single and we got a nice gap where i called Bill in but he hesitated and it closed, so a missed attempt. Another deep breath and we got a good one right at the edge of the ring. The judge took some time calling it and i fretted that they thought we'd left the ring but finally, whew, he called it!

I couldn't have been more proud of my young boy, he was a real champ out there. The strategies i'd planned to deal with the draw worked well because he was working so well with me and the sheep were listening to him. And even better yet, when they announced the score, we'd taken the lead with a 187! I don't know if that'll hold up for 3 more long days with all of these amazing dogs and handlers here still to run, but we'll surely make it to the semi-finals where we'll get another go at the sheep. Oh geez, now i have to figure out what to wear as it'll be televised on the live streaming video feed. At least i know what Bill will wear - he's going commando, LOL!
(photo above and in blog title by denise wall)

Monday, September 20, 2010

2010 Nursery Finals

What a wonderful trial going on here in VA. The organizers have done a fabulous job. Great field, great sheep. The sheep have been a good test of the dogs without being too much for the youngsters.

It was a bittersweet sort of day for me with Bill. I was so excited to run him and felt he was very ready and poised to do well. Unfortunately the luck of the draw got us. The sheep have been mostly very good but we had the misfortune to draw one that was a real stinker. She juked and jived and tried every trick in the book to get away from the moment she stepped on the field. We were doing a right hand drive and the sheep had been breaking all day to the left, and honestly i started wondering how the heck we were going to deal with that ewe on the crossdrive before we'd even brought her off the top end.

I sent Bill to the left on his outrun and he ran out very nicely, wide and deep. I'd planned on stopping him around 11 o'clock to counter the draw to the left but he came in there on his own, walking in with calm confidence. The sheep still broke to the left a bit but Bill took my flanks well and caught them. They got a bit offline but not too bad considering how hard it had been all day to hold them. We got the panels pretty easily and kept them online the rest of the fetch. This whole time, that one stinker of a ewe was breaking really hard to the left side about every 10 yards or so. Bill did a terrific job catching her and putting her back in, over and over and over, while we both worked hard to keep the other 3 online and sticking close enough to not lose them while the bad one was breaking. And i mean she was breaking hard! The turn around the post was dicey but we got it done. The first leg of the drive had been tough all day, with the sheep not wanting to line out and go straight downhill. Bill did a pretty nice job with the line, even though that ewe was breaking harder than ever, and her friends were starting to think about ways to take advantage of Bill being so busy with the stinker. We got them nicely through the panel and then the race was on! We had to take the sheep in the direction they wanted to go, and go they did, hellbent. I managed to time it exactly how i wanted, will Bill on the top side of the sheep as they flew through the panels. I had to give him a hard down command and went to voice, which meant i was giving that all important flank command by voice just as the crowd cheered like crazy for the made panels, and Bill didn't hear me. That little error killed us (i think he would have heard a whistled command), as the sheep got that extra jump ahead of Bill and ran to the fence where they so wanted to go. It was down over a hill and i couldn't see, other than that stinker ewe breaking off and heading uphill. Bill worked his butt off to bring the other 4 out but we needed all 5 - time ran out and we didn't get our drive score. In actuality, that 5th one had managed to get through the fence and into the big flock of sheep hanging out on the other side of the fence so there was no way we could have gotten it back together at that point. It was just heartbreaking because we'd worked so hard on such a bad ewe and Bill had done a stellar job. The whole crowd was disappointed, the cheers when we caught that panel and groans when the sheep got away were huge. It's hard to not get behind a little dog working so hard and doing such a good job.

So it was a tough day but also in some ways a really rewarding one. Bill really got to show his stuff out there, and it really made me feel great to have so many handlers come up and compliment his work and commiserate over that rotten ewe. It was disappointing because i think expectations that Bill would do well in the Nursery were pretty high. I know i felt he would do well and i sure would have liked to have made the second round to run for the Championship. But as always, there's a little luck involved in sheepdog trials and you do the best you can with what you get. I think we did that yesterday. Now, perhaps the sheepdog trial luck gods could cut us a break when we run tomorrow in the Open...

Friday, September 17, 2010

Finals time!

Finally it's Finals! 2010 USBCHA National Finals, in Middletown, VA at Belle Grove plantation. The course is beautiful and the local host committee has stepped in and done a stellar job. The sheep look fit, a group of 650 border cheviot crossbreeds, all 2-4 years old. The course is straightforward for the Nursery, right hand drive of about 125 yards on each leg, outrun 325 yards. I'm on the Handlers Association trial committee this year. I was on it at the 2007 Finals in PA and enjoyed it a lot, so am looking forward to it again. Basically, the local committee oversees what is happening outside the fence - crowds, vendors, all the million things that go into making this huge event - while the HA committee oversees the action on the inside of the fence - setting the course, watching every run for any kind of controversy or decision making that needs done, keeping things flowing and fair for everyone.

Tomorrow we begin the Nursery at 8 am and will go through the first 54 dogs on the running order. I don't run Bill until 91st, so will be watching closely and formulating my strategies for sunday. I can hardly wait to see him going out on that outrun since i've been aiming towards this since the 20 07Finals, when Bill was delivered to me as a 7 week old pup. He sat himself down in front of me, looked me right in the face with this open, honest expression as if to say "yup, i'm your dog" and now here we are. He's definitely my dog!

Friday, September 10, 2010

Finals Prep

How about this, 2 posts in one week?! Okay, i'm sitting here feeling a bit sorry for myself that i'm not out west, suffering through Meeker. Yes, it seems the sheep are winning out there, but i sure wish i was there to give it a go. Next year, for sure. I'm just not good at sitting on the sidelines watching. I'm pretty sure the "reload" button on my browser is about to go on strike after being hit 7,659 times this last week with both Soldier Hollow and Meeker posting scores. Okay, that's probably a low estimate. Whatever did we do before the instant gratification of scores being posted on the web? Did we ever actually wait on results to appear in magazines, weeks after the events? And now, we cry and fidget when more than a handful of dogs have run and no scores posted. Are we spoiled or what?! So, i'm distracting myself with a second blog posting in less than a week, how about that.

Preparations for running the dogs at the Finals are going along fine. I can't say that i have much experience in getting dogs ready for something like this, but i'm winging it and feeling okay about it. I've only ever actually run 3 times at the finals. In 2003 at Sturgis, I ran Jet in the Nursery and Spottie in the Open. I have almost no recollection of Spottie's run though i do remember a lot about Jet's. It really was mostly a "just happy to be here" experience for me then. At Gettysburg, in 2007, i again ran Spottie in the Open (Zac was hurt) and i do remember a good bit about it, but again, we weren't competitive and i didn't expect to be. But things have changed with more time and experience, and i hope we will be competitive this time around. I know i feel more competent and have a lot of faith in both Bill and Zac. So, i'm taking preparations pretty seriously as i feel it's knowledge and experience we'll be needing this year and in future Finals as well.

It can be tough to do enough physical conditioning in this area of the country in August, as it's just really hot and humid most times. But i've been jogging and trotting the dogs pretty regularly for the last month, several days a week, for 30-60 minutes at a time. There are lots of dips in the pond as we circle past it and the dogs seem to never get bored with the same circuit, happily trotting along with tongues and tails wagging.

Another thing i've done in preparation is buy in a dozen fresh lambs to work the dogs on. These sheep react nicely to the dogs and are fun and interesting for them and me as well. I'm not working the dogs for long sessions, but we've been doing some shedding and penning, and also just gathering and feeling these sheep. I'm trying to get the dogs flexible in their work as much as possible but not doing a lot of drilling or even very long sessions. Both were very well tuned when we got home from Canada a month ago and i want them to be fresh and rested for the next few weeks of trialing. The new sheep will hopefully keep them sharp. I also have to be careful to watch how the dogs are taking the physical stuff. Both of them have had muscle injuries in the past and i don't want to push it too hard too fast and end up with them tweaking something. Bill has looked a little off to me once or twice since Canada so i'm being especially watchful of him.

With about 10 days to go now, i'm thinking about dietary considerations. This is where i feel most like i'm winging it, for sure. I started using K9 Energy Edge about a week ago after each working session. I'm also switching up their kibble just a bit. I've been feeding a mix of Diamond Naturals Chicken and Rice with a better, more "high power" food (Red Paw or Evo) for quite a while, but now i'm increasing the percentage of the better food. I usually feed once a day, just an evening meal, but will be adding a breakfast meal now, of a premade raw food. My reasoning for this is that i'd like to add a bit more fat to their diets. Also, i've drawn up all 3 times in the running order towards the end of the day. I'm thinking it would be better to not be running them with no "fuel" added to the system for like 18 hours before they run, and want to get them used to the new feeding regimen.

I think that's about all i'm doing on the dogs, well, except for just being extra careful about things like playtime in the backyard and such, where they might get hurt. I call it "bubble wrap time"! As for preparations for myself, i'm trying to get good sleep as we run up to the event, and thinking about places where i might fall down in my handling and making lots of mental notes. Actually, i'm also making some real notes, since i remember things i've written much better. I'll review both kind of notes and hope to be on my game when we actually get on the field. I know there's a lot of luck when it comes to a trial like the Finals, luck of the draw on the sheep, time of day, weather, etc., etc. I don't mind that, i know it's just part of it. But i really hate it when i come off the field thinking "if I had //fill in the blank// things would have gone better". So for me the biggest part of Finals prep is trying to figure out all of those things. I know experience is the best teacher for those things but i'm hoping the Finals this year will be less of a learning experience than in the past!

Monday, September 6, 2010

Not Catching Up, for a change

How about this - a post where i don't have to start off apologizing for being a bad blogger and having to catch up?!

It's Labor Day weekend and there's not a lot going on around the Shoofly front. There's tons going on everywhere else in the world it seems like, trials all over the place, but we're not at one. I decided to just chill with the dogs and wait until the Finals in a couple of weeks rather than pack up and go to a trial beforehand. I'm positively itching to get to the Finals and run the dogs, that's for sure. But we'll be all rested up and i'm working daily on the dogs' conditioning to get ready. I'm sticking to mostly light work for Zac and Bill, with a little tuning up here and there. I got some fresh new sheep and we're having a good time working them. That's been good for them as well as me. Still, i wish the gap between Kingston and the Finals hadn't been so long. It felt like both dogs were right where i wanted them mentally for Finals when we got home from Canada. We'll see if it's held up.

I've been working the two youngsters pretty regularly. As with most youngsters, one day i think i have the next superstar and the next i'm wondering if they're going to work out. Zeke is a bit ahead of Tug in his training and seems a little more mature though they're the same age. Tug is keen keen keen and it gets in the way of his brain sometimes. Only time will tell but i'm hopeful that both will work out and at least one of them will be ready for Nursery next year. I'm also working Gael just a little, enough to make her a happy old dog.

I don't guess i've properly introduced Zeke. He's 13 months old, off of Joni's Lew and a bitch that is off of Raymond MacPherson's Roy. Zeke and Bill share the same father though i don't see a huge lot of similarity between them just yet. Here are a couple of pictures, in addition to the one above (and yes, i do have a matched set of white faced dogs for the Nursery with Zeke and Tug!)--